ImageSplit Infinitives

by Karen Johnson Waugh

You want the reader to have a clear meaning of your writing. The article you write should flow with four-star rhythms on every page.

The use of the split infinitive rearranges a phrase by placing the word “to” followed by the root of the infinitive. Actively treat your infinitive as one entity by avoiding a separation between the preposition and the verb. Your reader should recognize the “to” as merely a pre-positional marker.

The typical English infinitive is nearly the same as the Latin present infinitive. It is always one word. By splitting the infinitive with the one word modifier, you create a sentence that is less awkward in print.  The split infinitive is the basic form of a verb and it is a distinguished writing tool.

There are no split infinitives found in the King James Bible. Early use of the tool dates back to the 1300s when it was first constructed in poetry. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) only used the tool one time in all of his written works. In lines 12 and 13 of Sonnet CXLTI, he writes, “Root pity in thy heart, that when it grows thy pity may deserve to pitied be.”

These lines clearly demonstrate the split infinitive is effective in meter and rhyme.

In archaic times, English infinitives were more Germanic in form. Writers used a single word with a specific ending to denote a verb. As time progressed, the verbs took on the “to” form.

As of today, the Spanish, Portuguese, and other non-English Languages, verbs are still recognized by their ending.  In English, the word “to” is recognized as part of the infinitive, whereas in German and French, “a/de” and “Zu” are not.

It is noteworthy to consider history’s great writers that used the split infinitive. Authors Willa  Cather(1873-1947), John Donne (1572-1631), George Elliot (1923-1936), Daniel DeFoe (1661-1731), Benjamin Franklin (1831-1917), and Samuel Jackson (1651-1712) do not complete the list. Many authors of the present and past compliment the split infinitive.

In the Star Trek movies, you hear the phrase, “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” It is a creative use of the split infinitive. Researchers indicates the phrase originated from the 1958 published White House book titled ‘The Introduction to Outer Space.”

Using the split infinitive in your article will enhance the creativity of your writing. It is a writing tool that makes your sentences more elegant and clear.

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